Who’d have thought not long ago that we would be feeling happy with another one all draw? It may not be ideal but at least it represents an improvement on recent results. Pete Sixsmith was off on Santa duties but Malcolm Dawson was in his usual seat. How did he see things? Read on…..
SUNDERLAND 1 BLACKPOOL 1
The weather first thing seemed promising yesterday but I’ve lived in the North East long enough to know that’s no guarantee that it’ll stay that way. Accuweather may have been telling me it was 10° and I may have gone to school with no coat whatever the weather, but it was on with the thermals before I set off and what a good decision that turned out to be. It was freezing and despite my layers I was never that cold last February when I was in Norway, high above the Arctic circle being taken for a trip on a Reindeer sleigh by members of the Sami community who had decided that cashing in on tourism was probably a more preferable lifestyle than following their herds across the tundra in 22 hours of darkness.
Twelve months ago Blackpool was a club in turmoil and many of their supporters were only going to away games. They’re going back to Bloomfield Road again but still had a good turn out yesterday, who out sang the mostly quiet home support for much of the game. The impression I was getting from those of a red and white persuasion, on the Park and Ride and in and around the ground was subdued but not overtly negative. There wasn’t an overwhelming feeling of confidence, but nor was there an air of despondency before kick off. More of a “here we are again, what’s today going to bring?” sort of feeling.
Phil Parkinson decided to stick with five at the back with Flanagan Ozturk and de Bock forming the central three. With O’Nien and Hume as wing backs there was potentially more pace on the flanks than there had been at Gillingham. Power and Dobson were the midfield two with Watmore and Maguire playing off Charlie Wyke, starting for the first time in ages. Wyke is a big, physical hard as nails character who might well have linked up well with Roy Race at Melchester Rovers. Marco Gabbiadini did the half time draw and how we could do with someone who can stick it away like he used to do at the moment.
Blackpool had a big tall, soft as clarts centre forward in the Cotes d’Ivoire, Frenchman Armand Gnanduillet who was to make significant contributions in contrasting ways throughout the game.
We started off as we so often do, attacking the Roker End and within the first two minutes had won two corners and seen Charlie Wyke head just off target. But as seems to happen quite often having failed to convert an early chance we end up on the back foot when the visitors take the lead immediately afterwards.
From the resultant goal kick Blackpool keeper Jak Alnwick pumped the ball forward to their right wing where de Bock brought down the aforementioned clarty bloke. It was probably a foul (though from where I sit it looked as if de Bock might have actually played the ball around the legs) the linesman flagged and a foul was given. The subsequent rolling around, clutching his ankle was unwarranted, but obviously something the man whose surname reminds me of a particularly unsavoury French sausage, considers a legitimate tactic. We’ll return to that later.
But free kick it was and the ball was sent high into the box, past the outstretched leg of Alim Ozturk beyond the far post. A player in a blue stripy shirt hooked it back in front of goal, clarty French bloke headed towards goal and this time Ozturk headed it out to the edge of the box. From there it was played back out to the Blackpool right, swung back in, cleared by de Bock but only to Matthew Virtue-Thick who curled a lovely shot into the top corner from outside the box. McLaughlin, preferred to Burge for this one had no chance but once again our failure to clear our lines quickly had cost us a goal.
It soon became apparent that we did not have a great official in charge of this game. Both Wyke and Maguire were on the wrong end of some physical manhandling yet nothing was given. Then he would blow for the most innocuous of challenges. Sometimes a push in the back would be penalised then other times an arm around the neck and a judo throw deemed acceptable. If we are going to have poor referees at least let them be consistent please. Add to that linesmen who seemed to lag behind play and then give offside decisions based on guesswork, having failed to spot players getting behind defenders after the ball had been played and even I was getting animated.
We still have a preference for the slow build up and sideways and backward passing, rather than going for the quick attack, but a quick interception from Max Power found Charlie Wyke who tried to backheel it into the path of Watmore on the edge of the box, but it was well defended by an alert Jay Spearing. Watmore had another chance a little later after Hume’s cross made its way to O’Nien on the opposite side. His dink back across goal found Watmore but he was only able to head it over from the edge of the six yard box. McLaughlin made a decent stop from Gnanduillet and the follow up drive across the face of goal pinged harmlessly out to the touchline.
On thirty five minutes we got another corner as Hume again looked for O’Nien. Our first efforts with the dead ball had come to nothing but this time Maguire sent in a hard cross at around knee height and Wyke managed to get ahead of his marker to stick a side foot volley firmly home.
Wyke’s celebration seemed to be more one of relief than ecstasy but at least we were back in the game.
Unlike the Burton game we didn’t immediately concede this time but we nearly did as the ball broke to Husband but with McLaughlin nowhere near his shot hit the big clarty Frenchman on the knee and went wide. He was standing on the goal line and clearly offside but had he been able to get out of the way the goal would probably have been given.
Not long after Watmore and O’Nien linked up. O’Nien was brought down but the referee waved play on, probably correctly, though it was the kind of tackle where despite the player playing the ball, it is often deemed a foul. Anyway it broke to our French friend and George Dobson tried a similar tackle, brought the player down and was rightly penalised and booked. Gnanduillet obviously took exception to this and forgot about falling down and rolling around and grabbed hold of Dobson and gave him a shake. He also got a yellow for that, again probably correctly, though I’ve seen the red card shown for less. Mind you he might have got a second yellow straight away for dissent as he purposefully walked away when the ref was calling him for a talking to. Later he was to get Dobson sent off after our man appeared to win the ball cleanly. The ball bounced into Gnanduillet’s legs and he did his rolling around in agony act. The ref fell for it and produced a second yellow. Dobson couldn’t believe it and several Blackpool players appeared to console him as he made his way to the dugout. This was later in the second half. Wyke had headed against the bar and Grigg only just failed to get a foot on a hard low cross from O’Nien but the stats will show that Blackpool had more shots than us and we only managed two on target all game.
This was a better result but over the entire 90 minutes not a lot better than the Burton game performance wise. It’s easy to let the result cloud one’s judgement but we actually had a decent spell against Burton without making it count. Yesterday there were positive signs but also areas of concern. There seems to be a lack of attacking intent and a passing game that seems more intent on keeping possession than finding ways to threaten the opponent’s goal. There are still too many misplaced passes (Flanagan being especially culpable yesterday) and an inability to clear our defensive areas quickly. No more games until after Christmas and the prospect of a transfer window which may allow Parkinson (or whoever is in charge then) to address some of those issues but at least the home crowd was generally supportive, if subdued yesterday.
The official attendance given out was 30,595. Yeah right! There is a difference between tickets sold and bodies through the gate. To my eyes 23,000 would be nearer the mark as presumably a considerable number of season card holders decided they had better things to do and gave our last match before Christmas a miss. Judging by the atmosphere in the ground yesterday, these might well have been those types who seem to feel that anything other than an easy victory is sufficient to induce acts of aggression – physical and verbal.
Twelve months ago we appeared to be a club in a good place. We had a new triumvirate of owners who appreciated the place a football club holds in the lives of those who show their allegiance to it. They had gone out of their way to reconnect with the fans, on social media and in the flesh. Interaction with supporters on Twitter and in the media, regular attendances at supporters’ group meetings, invitations for fans to join them in the boardroom and turning up in local pubs and in the fan zones pre-match were just some of the ways in which they showed they got what football is all about.
They had also taken a firm stand on those players who had shown no desire to be at the club, installed an enthusiastic young manager and brought in a recruitment policy which brought along a whole load of players who, although limited in ability, were players who could do a job at the level we found ourselves, were happy to be paid League 1 wages but who, most importantly, wanted to be at the club. Things were good in the run up to last Christmas. Despite the fact that his team selections had been hampered by injuries, Jack Ross had seemed to find a system that made us favourites to get out of this division at the first attempt.
Then it started to turn sour. After the Burton game I wrote that I wondered if I wanted to endure many more evenings and afternoons at the Stadium if they were going to be like that. What I perhaps didn’t make crystal clear was that it was the toxic atmosphere created by the boo boys and girls and the negativity I was encountering when going to away games. Wrinkly Pete echoed my feelings and I am in no doubt that whilst not directly responsible for team selection, tactics or performances on the pitch, these vociferous and frankly unpleasant types who vent their spleen at any opportunity, are in danger of destroying the very thing they claim to love.
No more Tweets from Stewart Donald, no more Charlie Methven visiting the Branches or popping into the pub before away games. Apparent discord in the dressing room and an already beleaguered manager, who is probably only there because of the impatient minority who cannot see the bigger picture. As a player, manager, coach or owner, how enthusiastic would you feel if, despite your best efforts, people were gesticulating in your direction and telling you to eff off? Add to this a proliferation of websites, presumably run by these types or possibly Mags, who dominate the News Now Sunderland pages with critical headlines drawn from negative social media types and it all gets into the subconscious and inhibits maximum efficiency.
This wasn’t a great performance yesterday but on the whole the crowd stayed behind the team, without getting too carried away. There were a few half hearted boos at the end, but the majority were in the direction of the referee who had not endeared himself to the home support.
I shan’t be at the Bolton game as I will away for the Christmas period but Peter Sixsmith will be to bring you what may well be the last Salut! Sunderland match report. Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and wishing us all good fortune and success for our club in the future.
Ha’way the Lads
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